From Vulnerability to Precariousness: Examining the Moral Foundations of Care Ethics

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The ethics of care addresses aspects of the human condition that other moral theories overlook—our vulnerability to injury, inevitable dependencies, and ubiquitous needs. In the grip of these experiences, we require care from others to survive and flourish. The precarious nature of human existence represents a related experience, one less thoroughly explored within care ethics. Through examination of these occasions for care, this article offers two contributions: First, a map of the conceptual relations between care ethics’ four key concepts: need, vulnerability, dependency, and precariousness. As a subset of these efforts, I investigate the relevance of precariousness and precarity for care ethics by asking what they require of caring relations that vulnerability does not. Second, a more precise articulation of care ethics’ normative foundations and accompanying elucidation of the alternative vision of moral responsibility care ethics advances. Examining need, vulnerability, dependency, and precariousness through the lenses of finitude and embodiment exposes two common forms of conflation: between precarity and vulnerability and between dependency and vulnerability. Analysis of the moral significance of the body as a site for care reveals a novel portrayal of the normative foundations of care ethics and the reasons why we care for one another ethically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)644-661
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Philosophical Studies
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy


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